Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

CIRENCESTER, a market-town and parish and borough (unincorporated), in the hundred of CROWTHORNE-and-MINETY, county of GLOUCESTER, 17 miles (S.E.) from Gloucester, and 88 (W. by N.) from London, containing 4987 inhabitants. Prior to the arrival of the Romans, this was a British city, called Caer Cori, the town on the river Corin, now Churn, which the Romans converted into a military station, denominated Corinium: this station, from its situation near the intersection of the Fosse-way with the Ermin and Iknield streets, was one of considerable extent and importance; vestiges of the vallum and rampart are yet visible on the south-eastern side of the town, where Roman inscriptions, tesselated pavements, coins, urns, vases, the remains of an hypocaust, and various fragments of masonry, have been found.

The Saxons added the name Ceaster, of which, and its Roman name, the present is a corruption. It was the metropolis of the Dobuni, an ancient British tribe, from whom, in 577, it was taken by Ceawlin, King of Wessex; in 656 it was annexed to the kingdom of Mercia; and, in 879, the Danes under Guthrum, after their memorable defeat by Alfred, in the battle of Ethandune, retired hither, where they remained for a year, during the progress of the negociations which led to their conversion to Christianity, and their settlement in the island. Canute the Great held a general council here in 1020, when, according to the Saxon Chronicle, "Alderman Ethelward was outlawed, and Edwy, King of the Churls".

In the war between Stephen and Matilda, Cirencester castle, of which the earliest notice then occurs, being garrisoned by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, on the part of Matilda, was taken and burnt by the king's troops, in 1142; having been rebuilt, it was afterwards garrisoned by the disaffected barons against Henry III., but was taken by the king, who issued his warrant for its immediate demolition. The wall and gates that defended the town continued entire for some time afterwards. In 1322, Edward II. spent the festival of Christmas here, and soon afterwards convened an assembly of his nobles, to devise means for crushing the conspiracy formed by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and other barons, against his favourite, Hugh le Despencer; and the whole of the royal army was subsequently assembled here.

Early in the reign of Henry IV., the Dukes of Albemarle, Surrey, and Exeter, and the Earls of Gloucester and Salisbury, with other persons of distinction, entered into a conspiracy to assassinate the king, and restore the deposed monarch, Richard II. Henry being informed of this, led an army against them, when some of the principal conspirators, with the forces tinder them, retired to Cirencester, where they encamped: here they were attacked by surprise by the townsmen; and the Duke of Surrey and the Earl of Salisbury were taken and immediately beheaded, on which the troops dispersed. Henry subsequently granted the town a charter for the encouragement of trade, which, after a contested dispute in Chancery, was cancelled in the 37th of Elizabeth.

The explosion of hostilities against Charles I. is stated to have occurred in this town, by a personal attack upon Lord Chandos, who had been appointed to execute the commission of array on behalf of the king; and it was soon afterwards garrisoned for the parliament. Having been assaulted by Prince Rupert, it was captured, after a sharp conflict of two hours, on the 2nd of February, 1642; but was recovered for the parliament by the Earl of Essex, on the 16th of September in the following year: it again fell into the hands of the royalists, but was ultimately surrendered to the parliament. On the landing of the Prince of Orange, in 1688, the inhabitants, influenced by the Duke of Beaufort, declared for James II.; and Lord Lovelace, on his march through the town, with, a party to join the prince, was attacked by Captain Lorange, of the county militia, made prisoner, and sent to Gloucester gaol; in this encounter flowed the first blood that was shed in the revolution.

The town is pleasantly situated, and consists of four principal, and several smaller, streets. It was formerly of much greater extent, the walls having enclosed an area of two miles in circuit. The houses, which are chiefly of stone, are well built, and many of the more respectable are detached: the town is lighted, and the foot-paths paved with small stones; it is well supplied with water. There is. a society, called the Cirencester and Gloucestershire Agricultural Association: races are held annually near the town. But little trade is carried on, the cloth manufacture, formerly extensive, having declined:, some knives of a peculiar and superior quality are made for the use of curriers; and there are a small carpet-manufactory and two breweries

The Thames and Severn canal passes in the vicinity, and a branch of it comes up to the town. The market is on Monday for corn and provisions, and on Friday for provisions only; the latter was formerly considerable for wool, but, since the decline of the woollen manufacture, is much neglected. Fairs are held on Easter-Thursday, July 18th, and November 8th; and statute fairs on the Monday before, and the Monday after, October the 10th. The borough is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold petty sessions here for the seven hundreds of Cirencester, which comprise nearly a fourth part of the county. A court of requests, for the recovery of debts under 40s., established by act of parliament in 1792, is also held for the same division. A court leet is held annually, at which the steward for the manor appoints two high, and fourteen petty, constables, two of the latter being for each of the seven wards into which the borough is divided.

By charter of incorporation granted by Henry IV., Cirencester was constituted a separate hundred, which was co-extensive with the borough, but this charter having been set aside in the reign of Elizabeth, it has merged into the adjoining hundred. The borough sent representatives to a great council in the 11th of Edward III., but did not acquire the permanent privilege of returning two burgesses until the year 1571, by grant from Elizabeth: the right of election is vested in the resident householders not receiving alms, except "inhabitants of the abbey, and Emery and Spiringate-lane" about five hundred in number, and in the interest of Earl Bathurst: the steward and bailiff of the manor are the returning-officers.

The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Gloucester, and in the patronage of the Bishop of Gloucester. The church, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, is a magnificent structure in the decorated style of English architecture, erected in the fifteenth century, with a lofty embattled tower crowned with pinnacles; its interior and exterior are richly adorned in the most elaborate style, and it contains several chapels of exquisite beauty, and many sepulchral monuments. A fund, producing £267. 9. 4. per annum, was bequeathed for keeping it in repair. Two other churches, one dedicated to St. Cecilia, and the other to St. Lawrence, have long since been desecrated. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians.

The free grammar school was founded by Bishop Ruthal; the original endowment was augmented by Queen Mary, with £20 per annum, payable out of the Exchequer; the master is appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The Blue-coat school, established by subscription in 1714, was afterwards endowed by Thomas Powell, Esq. with £15 per annum, part of an annuity issuing from the Exchequer for ninety-nine years, and a moiety of the revenue of Maskelyne's estate, to which the Lord Chancellor, in 1737, added £20 per annum, out of property left for charitable uses by Mrs. Rebecca Powell, and, in 1744, with the interest of £562. 7. 6., as a provisional supply after the expiration of the annuity: the income is about £60 per annum.

The Yellow-coat school was founded, in 1737, by Mrs. Rebecca Powell, who endowed it for the instruction of twenty boys of Cirencester, in reading, writing, arithmetic, and frame-work knitting, and for clothing and teaching twenty girls: it is under the superintendence of trustees, and the annual income is about £320: the entire amount appropriated for schools in this parish is about £870 per annum. St. John's hospital, for three men and three women, was founded by Henry I., and endowed with land and reserved rents amounting to between £30 and £40 per annum. St. Lawrence's hospital, for a master and two poor women, was founded in the time of Edward III., by Edith, proprietress of the manor of Wiggold; it has a small endowment, and is under the control of Earl Bathurst. St. Thomas' hospital was erected by Sir William Nottingham, attorney-general to Henry IV., and endowed with £6. 18. 8. per annum, which is divided between four persons. In 1620, Mrs. Elizabeth Bridges founded an almshouse, with a small endowment, which has been subsequently augmented; and there are various minor bequests for the benefit of the poor, and for apprenticing children.

Henry I., in 1117, built an abbey for Black canons, in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which he and his successors richly endowed, insomuch that, in the 26th of Henry VIII., its revenue was estimated at £1051. 7. 1: it was a mitred abbey: the remains consist of two gateways and a large barn. In a field called the Querns, to the west of the town, near the Roman wall, are the remains of an amphitheatre. Grismond's Tower, a circular hill about a quarter of a mile westward, was discovered, on examination, to be a Roman tumulus, containing several large urns full of ashes and burnt bones. Richard of Cirencester, author of a History and Itinerary of Britain in the time of the Romans; Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, and counsellor to Henry VII.; and Caleb Hillier Parry, M.D., eminent in his profession, and father of the celebrated navigator, were natives of this place.

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